The real Spiderman: part one of our interview with David Thorne
How do you get your campaign to go viral? Strategic planning? Purely by accident or good luck? David Thorne found out when he posted his exchange with a creditor over an unpaid bill. It all started when he offered to pay it with a spider…
Who are you and why should people give a damn?
The interest has been in the content rather than who posted it but, as you asked, I have been involved in the branding and design industry for over 15 years with my background mainly in branding, corporate identity, information architecture and user interface design. According to one news item, I am apparently an ‘internet prankster’, which I took mild offense to before doing my research and discovering that all reporters are idiots. The advantage of having my name in the spider email of course is that it has a connection with my website and the number of hits due to people using the term ‘David Thorne’ as their search words in Google when looking for the spider post is quantifiable. I do not recall requesting anybody to give a damn as I have always been in it for my own entertainment, not theirs.
Were you surprised when your spider email went viral? Give me some background on how it started.
Most emails of this vein go viral to a degree, but this was just an extreme example. Despite the fact that I love what I do, the branding industry can place restrictions on creativity due to essentially being a service that has to provide a balance between design expression and functional business solutions. The website (www.27bslash6.com) is a release where I am not constrained and exists purely for my own amusement and distraction. And sometimes make friends laugh. The content on the site purposely has no point and I have found that this pointlessness seems to be its main appeal.
Google analytics is an excellent tool for evaluating patterns and this information was useful when posting the spider email. Constructs (constructed identities) on several social networking sites are useful for distributing links and fortunately the content of the spider email was found to be entertaining enough to be picked up and duplicated by the mainstream internet user, effectively distributing it worldwide in the matter of days through email and social networking sites. Once the viral email was established, associates added to the interest through selling the spider on eBay, etc. This, and the following refusal of the winning bidder to pay, was picked up and reported on commercial news sites such as nine.msn and news.com, which added to and continued the popularity of the original story.
Are you amused by what people will pass on to their mate, inadvertently causing something to go viral?
As my friends are all idiots I am amused by almost every email I receive. Email is not only a business tool, it is a global social networking space underneath the internet. I would much rather receive a humorous email from a friend than a work related email – I believe everyone would. When you are selling your soul nine to five in an office for less than a teacher’s salary and you receive an email that amuses you, there is the tendency to welcome the distraction and want to share with friends and co-workers.
The second that someone forwards an email such as this to several people, it is essentially viral. If the content is simple and amusing enough, it can become global surprisingly quickly. Usually this content is of no major discussion point, just simply shared. Occasionally some are popular enough to gain media attention, such as the spider email was, but this is not common or required. The popularity will obviously be dependent on the content, mainstream content will be more successful as it has the largest social networking space, while emails that are of an adult or even sensitive nature will be constrained to a tighter network of distribution.
How do you think marketers/ad people can harness the power of the ‘viral’?
Many agencies have attempted to use viral marketing, some with limited success others with great results. People will generally not forward advertising unless it is unique or humorous and there have been many cases where the advertising is purposely secondary to the humour.
In the case of the spider email, it may have seemed like it went global in the matter of a few days but there is actually some groundwork involved. Constructs on social networking sites are possibly the most important factor. It is not a matter of typing on a comments page about how great something is – I have found much greater attention is gained by being negative. For example, I posted the spider email link on several social networking sites under one construct name and then in the comments section wrote (as a different construct) that the spider email was not funny and that David Thorne was a moron.
This effectively opens the floodgates of posts arguing against you and drives the popularity up. I have, on occasions, had several constructs arguing against themselves on sites to drive comments and thereby move stories to top ratings. The content then moves from the social networking pages to email as a natural course.
This is not a new trick and is almost always effective to some degree.
Is there hope for the digital space or is it doomed to be filled with porn and advertising for Viagra?
It is doomed to be filled with porn and advertising for Viagra. I think that everybody accepts this and has become used to the certain percentage of unsolicited material that gets through filters. There must be enough people clicking on the links with the aim of increasing their girth for the advertisers to continue doing so. I know I have. Laws designed to control spamming have been outstandingly ineffective and targeted marketing to opt in recipients is a growing industry being quite an effective tool for companies such as Australia Post and Nestle, for example, where lifestyle surveys promise the chance of prizes in return for receiving advertising. Personally, I enjoy receiving the emails claiming they have three million dollars to transfer out of the country and need my help as there is a part of me that wants to believe.
In part two (16th Dec), David discusses his life in websites, pirates and why the industry is not a load of bollocks.